Why do I dislike that term ‘procedural detective’, a phrase we see plastered onto the internet, into magazines and hear on the airwaves? Well, just reading those two words is as agreeable as having an anaesthetic injected into the jugular, and just as effective. The phrase suggests a plodding, boring task, as though reading a book is a dull and dreary duty rather than a pleasure. It’s a grudging understatement of the power that good crime fiction possesses and the enjoyment it can give.
The best crime novels give readers opportunities to enjoy characters who deliver the entire spectrum of human emotions from sunny and saintly to dark and devilish. More than any other genre, crime allows for fun, evil, weeping, cynicism, wit, laughter, hatred, philosophy, stupidity, cunning, love … To distil all those facets of humanity, and many more besides, into a couple of humdrum words is nothing short of a … a… crime.
It’s those terrific characters the reader expects to meet in a detective story who entertain and enthral us, it’s not only the plot. Of course, the main characters must lead the way, but the tale wouldn’t be complete without the host of extras who bring something unique to each novel. Intrigues, twists and surprises are essential to make a good read such a pleasure. But we mustn’t forget that they are all brought into existence by the people who tell their stories on the pages we read.
In short, the destination of a good book is undoubtedly a great place at which to arrive, but the journey must be a blast as well. Simply finding out who did it, and how and why they committed the dastardly deed, isn’t nearly enough. That’s just a procedural detective.